A Late Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy New Year!
This year the approach of the Christmas holidays were a bit more of an adventure than usual. The Toronto ice storm of 2013 was beautiful, but for some very difficult. At our house we did not actually lose power, but many people did, numbering in the hundreds of thousands (CBC, 2013). We heard transformers explode one night and saw entire apartment complexes go dark. I went to visit my mom the next day and found that the subdivision north of her house was dark: without house lights or street lights or traffic lights. We lost cable and Internet for four days and although we felt disconnected (thus no updates to Facebook or my blog), we were grateful that was all we had to deal with.
Thousands had difficulty staying warm: at this time of year, well in the grip of winter, people were without lights or heat. Certainly there were “dozens of warming centres” (Toronto Sun, 2013) open across the city; but most people chose to stay home and to weather the cold (pardon the pun). Hundreds (according to the National Post: 774 on Christmas Eve) spent the night in such shelters, though that would be only a fraction of 1% considering that the blackout topped out at over 300K homes, and even after four days is still over 30K homes without power (The Star, 2013). There were warnings about carbon monoxide from BBQs and generators used inside, and apparently two deaths (Globe and Mail, 2013). Our illustrious mayor, Rob Ford, apparently visited some people to get them to visit the warming centres (Toronto Sun, 2013) while others berated him for lack of action and said, “The warming centres are filled.” (The Star, 2013). He should probably be grateful that more didn’t leave their homes for the shelters; the city’s numbers were simply insufficient to house more than a tiny fraction of those whose homes were dark.
Considering that the great blackout of 2003 was much more extensive but lasted only two days (Time/Science, 2013), this sounds rather serious. I remember hearing on the radio that Mr. Ford had not called a State of Emergency, and I wondered why. He had support from some (CBC, 2013), who said that it was not necessary: but others (including myself) disagreed (Globe and Mail, 2013). The sound bites were easily available, especially through my limited resources: “all resources are being used”; “it wouldn’t help us to get the situation under control any faster”; “it would only cause a panic”.
According to the provincial premier, “The province is sending emergency aid to Toronto, and other affected communities in Ontario, even without a formal declaration of a state of emergency.” (Globe and Mail, 2013)
Then I discovered that under the new situation established by City Hall: if Mr. Ford declared a state of emergency, he would have to give up his remaining powers to the deputy mayor (O Canada, 2013). That explained everything, and sounds depressingly like something I would expect from Mr. Ford. He would rather have photo ops with his supporters and commiserate with those suffering, playing politics, than see people’s homes restored with power. And he’s used to those around him compensating for his politicizing. The premier, even though no emergency was declared, sent emergency aid that was needed. He might not have declared a state of emergency, giving up his powers, but he got everything he needed.
It helps to answer one big question that I would like to put to Mr. Minnan-Wong, chair of the public works department. He said: “declaring a state of emergency is not going to fix hydro lines any faster.” (CTV News, 2013) He didn’t say it wasn’t needed: he said it wouldn’t help. If that’s true, Mr. Minnan-Wong… if declaring a state of emergency doesn’t give the city access to more resources or money or anything that would help in this kind of situation… then what exactly is such a declaration for? And what does it actually do?